SAN ANTONIO -- Mollie Daniel scored on a layup and all 6,781 in attendance at the Alamodome waited for the other shoe to drop.

Daniel's basket for Martin's Mill, which had not led since the first quarter, cut what was once a seven-point Panhandle lead at its worst down to one with 5:44 remaining Saturday in the Class 2A state championship game. The second thud never came.

Panhandle's lead ranged from one point to four through the next four minutes, but it never lost that lead and ultimately claimed the title with a 50-43 victory.

"I think there were a few possessions throughout the game that we just had a hard time finishing at the basket," Lady Mustangs coach Tommy Cross said. "That was kind of our game plan, getting to the rim. We got to the rim quite a bit, but we just had a hard time finishing once we got there."

Martin's Mill's late push was a fantastic turnaround from fortunes earlier in the game. It closed the first half shooting 21 percent from the floor and didn't really begin to fix that low number until the midway mark of the third quarter.

At that point, Panhandle (30-6) had dragged itself to a four-point lead and was able to take a seven-point advantage into the fourth quarter, 33-26, on Rylee Albracht's buzzer beating 3-point shot.

So, here were the Lady Mustangs down the closing stretch, getting closer and closer with their signature full-court press. Now only one or three points -- depending on who had just finished their most recent possession -- from finally making Panhandle question whether it had the right stuff to cement itself in high school basketball lore.

The dilemma for Martin's Mill (37-3) was that it kept getting within one point of Panhandle and then Panhandle would score a basket the other way for a three-point lead. If they could manage a 3-pointer against Panhandle's tough 2-3 zone, they would zap the momentum that worked against them pretty much the whole way with little time remaining.

Panhandle's weaknesses in its zone kept presenting themselves in the paint. Martin's Mill would score a layup, move within one point and Panhandle would counter with a basket.

The Lady Mustangs, down 43-40, finally ran out of opportunities to tie on a possession that lasted 20 seconds and was all about finding a good look for a 3-point shot.

They got whistled for a flagrant foul. On offense.

Grace Kuehler hit two free throws and, a second penalty for an intentional foul, Panhandle got the ball back for another possession. Kuehler scored on that one, too.

With 41 seconds left in the entire 2A season, Martin's Mill stared at its largest deficit once again.

"I did not get an explanation on the intentional foul," Cross said. "But I did see it. So..."

Panhandle became the third state champion of the weekend behind Class 1A champion Nazareth and Class 3A champion Canadian. All three of those schools are from the Amarillo area and were in state tournament brackets with at least one East Texas team.

Canyon, a fourth Amarillo area school, competed in the Class 5A championship game later Saturday and won.

"I think each team has just gone out there and tried to bring one home for their school and community," Panhandle coach Rob Schmucker said. "It just happens. We're 7-0 (combined at the state tournament) and hopefully 8-0. We're all rooting for each other, but I don't think there's a message or anything we've sent."

East Texas has had its own days in the past. The Lady Mustangs are a big part of the legacy.

Martin's Mill's trip to San Antonio marked the program's 12th state tournament appearance. Eleven tournament teams have come since 2006 and four won titles.

This one got close to a championship without senior forward Jocie Bennett, who was a big part of last year's state semifinalist team. She tore her ACL in the fall.

Bennett played the final 1.1 seconds of the championship game. Cross called a timeout to get her on the floor.

The Lady Mustangs expect to return 12 of 14 players from their state championship game roster next season. Four of them started the game.

Hailey Celsur will join Bennett in graduation later this spring. Both reached the state tournament three times and won once.

"We had to talk each other up," Celsur said. "We were kind of down because we weren't finishing. We missed block outs. But we tried to talk each other up. We tried to get momentum. We had a job we wanted to do, but we came up short today."

No. 3 Panhandle 50, No. 1 Martin's Mill 43

Class 2A State Championship Game
At The Alamodome, San Antonio

Panhandle               9        11       13       17   --     50
Martin's Mill             8          7       11       17    --    43
Panhandle (30-6) -- Grace Kuehler 11, Rylee Albracht 10, Lainey Choate 10, Bree Baker 7, Hunter Heck 6, Macalle Melton 6.
Martin's Mill (37-3) -- Hailey Celsur 10, Calli Camacho 10, Briley Moon 9, Mollie Daniel 8, Abbie Orrick 6.
THREE-POINT GOALS -- Panhandle: Albracht (2), Choate. Martin's Mill: Camacho, Celsur, Moon.

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